A Rhetoric of Easter Eggs

When I was a child, I loved painting Easter eggs with my family. For the Polish, egg painting (pisanka) is an art-form and serious business. Crayons and warm colored vinegar washes were inadequate. Like many American Poles, we held on to our traditions. My grandparents, parents, my brother, and I would sit around the table a Pysanky2011couple days before Easter and paint, draw, etch, and yarn over eggs. We painted one another’s names on our eggs and exchanged them at Easter dinner. My grandmother always praised us for their beauty – even when we clumsily combined paint colors or misspelled her name.

My mother was a semi-professional artist, and she fired ceramic eggs that we displayed year after year. We blew the yolks out of eggs, painted them, and stored the delicate shells in tissue paper to reuse. Every Good Friday we opened the box of Easter decorations to see which eggs survived storage.

Now, when I walk into a store and see the racks of garish, plastic eggs I wonder what message we’re sending about Easter. This kind of Easter seems cheap and disposable. For me, a plastic Easter egg has no warmth, family, or pleasure. Easter is pickled beets, lamb-shaped butter, and my grandparents singing in Polish. The celebration and feast after the long sacrifices of Lent cannot be contained in something bought at a store.

Writing by Hand and Memory, Part 2

This series began because I was going through my keepsakes and photos the other day. As I dug through a waterproof bin that holds some of my most mundane but meaningful treasures, I was struck by the power of writing to evoke memory.

Top row: My Grandma and my Mom Bottom row: My Great Grandma and me

My mother and grandmother are both deceased. As I dug through photos, postcards, greeting cards, letters, and other bits of paper, I realized that I inherited my love of reading and writing from them; they were both prolific writers. What’s more is I could glance at a card and know who wrote it. Their handwriting pushed memories at me – practicing handwriting at the kitchen table, writing notes to my grandma, and collecting poems and little stories to share.

Both women had lovely penmanship. My mother’s letters were clear and easy to read. Lovely, but not particularly ornamental either. I’m not sure I buy into graphology as a legitimate field, but in my mother’s case, her handwriting mirrored who she was. My grandmother’s handwriting was pure art. Every letter ended in a perfectly proportioned curl. Even on blank paper, her handwriting was level and evenly spaced. It was lovely to read and look at.

So, I wasn’t surprised when I found a certificate in her name for the Palmer Method of penmanship. She was an expert and her correspondence reflected her abilities. In fact, I remember toward the end of her life, she lamented the shakiness of her hand. She hated that she couldn’t write as beautifully has she once had.

As a someone who studies digital writing and tools, I can’t help but wonder what we lose when we stop teaching handwriting. Will future generations explore their digital files and have memories of the moment someone posted something to Facebook or the moment they were retweeted? Or, is there something about the materiality of handwriting that has a special power?

Writing by Hand and Memory, Part 1

I saw a post on Facebook that said, “For teachers, August is like a month-long Sunday night before work.” This resonated with me because I am in the process of trying to wrap up a bunch of crap from the summer (weekend) and prepare for the fall semester (Monday). In other words, my plate is full.

My view from Starbucks in Fort Worth, Tx!

But, as I work on my syllabus for my Rhetorical Theory course, I realized that I use a lot of technologies for my work. I use my laptop and Starbucks’s free wifi to research readings, resource for my students, and foreign terms I don’t recognize. I listen to music through headphones to block out conversations nearby. I have photocopied or scanned articles and book chapters in front of me. The wood pulp based paper I use is pretty recent invention. I’m using a sophisticated technology called a ballpoint pen too.

However, I started to think about why I still print articles and take notes with a pen. I realized that I remember things better when I write them by hand. I can recall the way the letters looked on the page, where my annotations rest on the page, and what marks I made next to important passages. I can see my notes in my head and make connections easily.

I began to wonder if I’m a weirdo, but then I remembered reading this article that basically affirms my experience. In their study of student who took notes by laptop and those who took notes by hand, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer found that student who write out their notes, “had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who used took notes with their laptops.” So, while laptops may allow for more notes that doesn’t mean the notes are better or more effective.

So, as I take this little break, I realize that I take notes for teaching by hand because I like the ability to recall information quickly and easily in the classroom. If I’m honest, it may be because I like the ethos of just “knowing” stuff in front of students. At the same time, I hate derailing good class discussions to look something up on Google. But more than that, Theuth was wrong in Plato’s Pheadrus. Hand writing doesn’t necessarily externalize memory, but maybe typing does.